Team Eaton faces big challenges this weekend

Oregon Track Club Elite’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Ashton Eaton competing at Hayward Field

Team Eaton will be competing more than 5,000 miles apart this weekend.

When Ashton Eaton, the reigning Olympic gold medalist and World Champion in the decathlon, settles into the blocks of the 110-meter high hurdles at the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field on Saturday, his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, will have already completed Day One of the heptathlon at the prestigious Hypo Meeting in Götzis, Austria.

These are both significant meets on their respective competitive calendars for the outdoor season.

“I’m very antsy for competition,” said Eaton, whose personal best of 13.35 seconds is the “slowest” in the eight-man field. “I’m excited to get in a race with high-caliber athletes to see if I can rise to the occasion.”

Eaton will certainly get his wish for stellar competition.

The Pre Classic 110-meter high hurdle field includes a stunning array of Olympic medalists, world champions and world record-holders, including Team USA’s Aries Merritt (12.80), David Oliver (12.89), Jason Richardson (12.98) and Ryan Wilson (13.02).

Rounding out the field is Russia’s Sergey Shubenkov (13.09), France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde (13.23) and American Omoghan Osaghe (13.23).

“I would love to do another event,” Eaton said. “But it’s Pre.”

Eaton, who won’t compete in any decathlons this year, has been focused on a brand new event for him: the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. After clocking back-to-back performances of 50.01 seconds, he slipped under 50 seconds at the Texas stop of the American Track League series last week with a second-place time of 49.69.

“He’s getting it figured out,” said Harry Marra, the OTC Elite multi-events coach. “It’s about trusting your rhythm for 50 seconds, and I would say that’s a tough thing to do.”

Theisen-Eaton, meanwhile, will attempt to defend her heptathlon title at the Hypo Meeting in Götzis, Austria on Saturday and Sunday against an international field of more than 30 competitors.

Last year, she used her victory as a springboard to even greater triumphs; most notably, a silver medal in the heptathlon with a lifetime best of 6,530 points at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow. She followed that performance with another silver medal in the pentathlon at the 2014 IAAF Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland.

“I’m in really good shape,” Thiesen-Eaton said. “All of my events are coming along well and I think I should have a really high score.”

Theisen-Eaton said she was “excited” about all of her events in the heptathlon, but based on her training, she is targeting solid gains in the shot put, high jump and 200.

“Last year, in both of my heptathlons, I only threw 13 meters in the shot put,” she said. “But this year I’ve been in the high 13s, almost 14 meters, so that should be good.”

And, if a medal is on the line, she’s confident that her fitness will allow her to run a fast 800 by herself, something she did at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Poland last March.

“If it comes down to the 800, even though it’s not that much fun, I think I could run a pretty fast time right now,” Theisen-Eaton said.

“I learned in Poland that if I have to, I can run 2:10 by myself. I don’t have to hope somebody leads me through it, and not a lot of heptathletes have that confidence.”

Unlike Poland, Theisen-Eaton won’t have the luxury of the world’s greatest athlete cheering her on from the sidelines, but she’ll still have the watchful eye of Marra and the knowledge that she’s in prime condition.

“I’m as fit and ready right now as I was for Moscow last year,” she said. “It should be a good meet.”

For his part, Marra is confident that both of his athletes will perform well this weekend.

“Bri has been training well and if she remains steady throughout, good things will happen,” he said. “Ash, too. I think he’s excited to test himself against the best hurdlers in the world.”